Old King Cole (I)
DESCRIPTION: Cumulative: "Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he. He called for his pipe and he called for his bowl and he called for his --- three." Sundry (soldiers/courtiers) are called in, make suitable remarks, and wait for the next rank
EARLIEST DATE: 1776 (Herd); the nursery rhyme form is quoted in William King's "Useful Transactions in Philosophy" (1708/9)
KEYWORDS: cumulative soldier drink humorous bawdy royalty
FOUND IN: US(SE,So) Britain(England(Lond,North,South),Scotland(Aber)) Canada(Mar) Ireland
REFERENCES (19 citations):
Kennedy 302, "Old King Cole" (1 text, 1 tune)
Wiltshire-WSRO Mi 661, "Old King Cole" (1 text)
RoudBishop #112, "Old King Cole" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ford-Vagabond, pp. 151-153, "Old King Coul" (1 text)
GreigDuncan8 1710, "Old King Cole" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
Whitelaw-Song, p. 19, "Old King Coul" (1 text)
Chappell-FSRA 107, "Old King Jimmy" (1 text, in which the same first stanza is repeated several times: "Old King Jimmy called for his wine And called for his fiddlers three," "Old Farmer Jimmy called for his wine..." "Old Preacher Jimmy..." "Old Sailor Jimmy...")
Sulzer, pp. 26-27, "Old King Quine (Cawein)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph-Legman I, p. 158, "Old King Cole" (1 fragmentary text, 1 tune)
Owens-2ed, pp. 117-118, "Old Kinkaid" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 171-173, "Old King Cole" (1 tune, which may or may not be related as no text is given)
Creighton-NovaScotia 91, "Old King Coul" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-Singing, pp. 204-205, "Old King Cole" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie-Oxford2 112, "Old King Cole" (2 texts)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #206, p. 143, "(Old King Cole)"
Jack, p. 140, "Old King Cole" (1 text)
Dolby, p. 56, "Old King Cole" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 278, "Old King Cole" (1 text)
DT, KNGCOLE* KNGCOLE2*
Martin Gorman, "Old King Cole" (on Voice07)
Bodleian, Harding B 20(269), "Old King Cole," J. Harkness (Preston), 1840-1866 ; also Harding B 11(2808), "Old King Cole"
Old King Cotton (Fred W. Allsopp, Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II, p. 199)
NOTES: Randolph-Legman I has a bawdy version of the drinking song and nursery rhyme. - EC
Various explanations have been offered for "King Cole." Colchester is said to have been named after a third century kinglet named Cole; Geoffrey of Monmouth's history, V.6, describes a "Coel Duke of Kaercolun/Colchester" as living in the time of Constantius the father of Constantine the Great -- but Geoffrey made up most of his history. (He also gave us King Lear and much of the basic story of King Arthur). As the Opies comment, "If the old chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth (1147) could be trusted, which he cannot be, King Cole had a daughter who was well skilled in music." They go on to note that the identity of Cole has been discussed at least since the early eighteenth century.
It might be worth noting that, although Geoffrey's history is almost all fiction, and we have no quality sources for British history in the period preceding Constantius, Geoffrey's work is very popular. So it might possibly have inspired this song even though it is not historical.
Scotland had a King Colin (967-971). Various merchants and minor noblemen have also been suggested, and Jack mentions the Celtic kinglet Coel Hen. Needless to say, none of these identifications is convincing. - RBW
Parody: Bodleian, Harding B 11(2809), "Old King Cole," J. Sharp (London), c.1845 - BS
Last updated in version 4.1
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.